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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - 3.6X sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Powerful 3.6-litre flat six, interior space and comfort, higher ride gives SUV-like vision, cool Subaru dials light up when you hit start button, SI drive modes
Room for improvement
Annoying lane departure warning, sound system not user-friendly, dull handling, can be thirsty when pushed European pricetag

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Subaru logo31 Jan 2013

By TIM NICHOLSON

Price and equipment

AT $55,990, Subaru’s high-riding Liberty 3.6X is clearly pitched at the more premium end of the mid-size segment. It is more expensive than the flagship versions of the Mazda6, Honda Accord Euro, Hyundai i40, Toyota Camry and Ford Mondeo.

This price point places it firmly in European territory with vehicles like the Citroen C5, Peugeot 508 and Volkswagen Passat all offering variants for a similar cost, although none of which offer the Liberty’s extra ride height or all-wheel-drive.

At least the Liberty 3.6X is well specified, with luxuries like eight-way driver and passenger power seats, Bluetooth audio, USB and auxiliary jack, multi-function display, push-button start and leather interior.

Chrome side-step plate, door handles and boot garnish, and a matte silver gearshift add to the upmarket feel. The 3.6X also comes standard with Subaru’s EyeSight safety technology, plus the SI-Drive system with three driving modes.

All this does beg the question of whether it is worth spending the extra $10,000 for the Subie over the equivalent range-topping Mondeo or Mazda6. On the other hand, it does have a more impressive features list for the cash than the aforementioned, similarly priced Euros.

Interior

IT is not all that often you have to step up into the cabin of a sedan, especially for your 183cm tall correspondent, but the raised ground clearance means the Liberty bucks the trend.

It becomes immediately clear once you are inside the cabin that the variant tested is a premium member of the Liberty family, second only to the sportier GT.

There isn’t a lot of contrast in the Liberty’s cabin, with the dash plastics, seats, carpet and door trim all in black. There is an ivory option for the leather seat trim which would be a welcome break from the gloomy black.

But if you can look past the drab colour scheme, the cabin of the Liberty is not a bad place to be. The leather seats are supportive but not overly firm and eight-way power seats with dual memory for the driver mean that it is easy to find a comfortable seating position.

The leather-look dash plastics are hard but fit in well with the rest of the interior, as do the leather steering wheel and a matte silver gear shifter.

A large multi-function information screen dominates the centre stack and is home to the sat-nav, reversing camera and some audio controls. The rest of the instrumentation is functional and includes a second, smaller multi-function display at the top of the dash that shows fuel economy and temperature.

The steering wheel is slightly oversized for our liking, but houses a number of useful controls for the adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth and SI Drive. Speaking of Bluetooth, the quality of the audio was top notch, although the set-up was a somewhat lengthy and confusing process.

Three thirty-something volunteers ranging in height between five and six foot tall proved that rear seat occupants are well catered for in the Subaru, with ample leg and head room and more than enough space across the rear bench. Headroom for the driver and front passenger is also excellent.

Cargo space of 476 litres is 38 litres more than the new Mazda6 sedan but 34 litres less than the capacity of the top-selling mid-size Toyota Camry.

Engine and transmission

AFTER recently spending time in the smaller capacity four cylinder Liberty 2.5X, we were underwhelmed by the 127kW/235Nm engine and found the Lineartronic CVT to be rather whiney.

What a pleasure it was to then step into the more powerful 3.6X, with its flat-six engine. The 3.6X is the only model in the Liberty range that comes with a six-cylinder engine, although it is available in its Outback twin for those who need more pulling power.

The 3.6-litre unit is a delight, producing 191kW/350Nm for a far more spirited drive than its less powerful stablemate. Where the 2.5X is let down by a CVT mated to a smaller engine, the five-speed automatic fitted to the 3.6X was a better match.

The transmission was smooth and uncomplicated and only occasionally struggled to find a ratio. It was equally effective in manual mode, if you prefer a paddle shift.

An unexpected surprise was the lovely engine note. While it can’t compete with bigger and more brutish V8s for aural pleasure, the boxer six gave off a sound that was reminiscent of a more powerful engine.

Official fuel economy figures are 10.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.

We managed 10.8l/100km.

Ride and handling

SUBARU has included its Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) system as standard on the 3.6X, allowing the driver to choose from three different modes – Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp.

Intelligent mode is the pick if you are more concerned about fuel usage than performance, whereas Sport mode sharpens in-gear response for more aggressive driving.

Choose the Sport Sharp mode and you will see the 3.6X really come alive with outstanding performance from a standing start. If you were even remotely concerned about fuel consumption, then we suggest you avoid the SI# button on the steering wheel. , Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system ensures that handling is in keeping with a mildly sporty mid-size sedan, albeit not segment-leading.

True, 3.6X is that it is a tall, high-riding sedan that doesn’t drive like a typical SUV, but there is still some body roll in corners. The cushy suspension is aimed more at comfort than dynamism.

Safety and servicing

SUBARU has fitted the entire Liberty range with a standard Vehicle Dynamics Control system that includes the usual array of safety gear such as traction control, electronic stability control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.

As well as being awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the car tested had Subaru’s standard EyeSight driver assist system that includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure and lane sway warning and a pre-collision braking system.

While the adaptive cruise control is handy for highway driving and the pre-collision braking proved effective, we found the lane departure warning to be too loud and overly sensitive.

The two cameras that sit on either side of the rear-vision mirror to detect lane departure couldn’t seem to differentiate between the lines on the road and some of Melbourne’s tram tracks, either.

As with the entire Liberty range, the 3.6X comes with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

WHILE Subaru has done well to create a niche with a high-riding sedan, it could be argued that the vehicle is somewhat unnecessary.

Then again, with the rise of SUVs and sales of larger sedans in decline, Subaru could be on to something by mixing genres. Time will tell whether regional buyers agree.

Performance wise, the 3.6X is miles ahead of its four-cylinder 2.5X sibling, if you are happy to deal with the $10,000 premium and slightly higher fuel costs.

Some people will question whether $55,990 for a Subaru Liberty is value for money and while it might not be quite as dynamic as the new Mazda6 or have the badge cache of Volkswagen, its tall-boy proportions mean it essentially fights in a sub-segment of one.

Rivals

DIFFICULT to determine as it is the only six-cylinder high riding sedan on the Australian market. Some of its traditional mid-size competitors are

Ford Mondeo Titanium EB – From $44,990 plus on-road costs

Honda Accord Euro Luxury Nav - From $43,140 plus on-road costs

Mazda6 Atenza – From $46,810 plus on-road costs

Peugeot 508 GT HDi - From $52,990 plus on-road costs

Toyota Camry Atara SL - From $39,990 plus on-road costs

Volkswagen Passat V6 FSI 4motion - From $55,990 plus on-road costs

Specs

Make and model: Subaru Liberty 3.6X
, Engine type: 3630cc 6-cylinder boxer petrol DOHC with dual AVCS
, Power: 191kW @ 5600rpm
, Torque: 350Nm @ 4400rpm
, Transmission: 5-speed automatic
, 0-100km: 7.4 seconds
, Fuel consumption: 10.3L/100km
, Will it fit in my garage? L4745mm/W1820mm/H1575mm
, Weight: 1562kg
, Price: From $55,990 plus on-roads

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